Jump to content


Can empathy be taught? and other questions

Recommended Posts

I know when children are younger many do not show much empathy. However, as they get older that is supposed to develop. It seems a bit slow in coming with my ds, who will be nine this summer. Maybe he has that ability, but hides it at times. He is also the kind to not communicate. He will shut down, rather than open up and say what the problem is with his brother. Obviously, if he spoke up, it would be much easier to help them both. I'm not sure if I'm clear here. There are several issues and I'm wondering how to help him, if I can.


1) At times, the empathy seems non existant. Is this something that can be taught and if so, how?


2) He does not want to communicate. Help me with ideas how to bridge across the gap he creates.


3) Conflict resolution--any suggestions for a good approach/curriculum to teach this.


I'm wondering if some of this should come from somewhere else....where?? Isn't that the point of home schooling. Excuse me, I'm thinking out loud here. My dh tried to talk to ds today, but ds just ran away into the back yard. I went and tried to explain how running away from things doesn't solve things. Also, that he is growing into a young man and needs to let his Dad guide him to become a strong and good man. (Ds wanted none of this.)


Also, I'm open to any suggestions. We are not strongly religious (though perhaps that would help) so we are more likely to follow secular ideas. Please don't let that stop any ideas from coming in. I really want to be able to help ds in these areas, and feel that I am falling short right now.


Thanks in advance, Woolybear

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Yes it can be taught. I remember my mother saying "put your self in their shoes" and "look at it from their perspective" over and over throughout our childhoods. Why does your son run? Maybe a chat about bravery would help? It is good to be brave, but it takes practise; and seeing conversations through is a brave thing to do. Including polite ways of terminating conversations when they get too heavy for him might help him stick it out a little longer. If you think it's an issue of courage, dropping lots of "that was very brave" sorts of comments will help. It helps my dh, who is still working on strengthening his "inner orc" as he calls it :)


Random thoughts...



Link to comment
Share on other sites

I think empathy is taught.


From a very young age, I consistantly model an empathetic response to situations. If a child hurts someone, knowingly or not, I am always -ALWAYS - sure to make my child aware that his action caused someone pain. No need to be angry about it, but I say it plainly - "---- you whacked your sister in the face when you swung that stick. That gave her an ouchy - see she's crying. Go and tell her you are sorry and ask if she's OK." (that one really happened btw:tongue_smilie:) Most kids "get it" when they ask if the other child is OK -ime. It changes the situation from shaming the hitter into isolation -to a situation where the hitter takes responsibility for his actions (as much as a little one can) - and tries to help. The hitter is responsible for fetching a band-aid or whatever is needed to fix the ouchy. This is what I do with toddlers/preschoolers. My 6yo does this quite automatically now (although it hasn't stopped him from sometimes being just plain mean on purpose.....:001_huh:)


For tattling issues - I tell the dc what to say in order to resolve the conflict. I never just solve it for them.


RE the communication - you just have to tell him that you are mom and dad and he WILL talk. You'll wait. He is worth your time. I draw a hard and fast line that my kids MUST come when I call them, MUST look at me when I talk to them, and MUST acknowledge me and dh when tell them to do something ("yes, mommy" or "no, daddy" kind of response) We prioritize that respect for mom and dad on our list of discipline issues in our home. His respect for you is closely linked to his feelings of worth in your eyes. I think sometimes in an attempt to respect the child's feelings and needs we overlook that all-important need (for a parent to take that role of loving authority) which backfires completely.


A child is not going to ask to be led and will not just let a parent take the lead easily, but deperately needs to be led - and KNOWS it!


I don't think you'll find any currics or approaches that will be a quick fix for this. I think the key is moving *respect for mom and dad* (whether he likes it or not) to the top disciplining priority list. It's a heart issue, and not a behavioral issue. I think teaching conflict resolution will come naturally after that.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

:iagree:with Rosie that it can be taught. I know I've made the mistake of assuming my kids were picking up the values I try to operate in. Kids don't always internalize what they see. I've had to backtrack on things I assumed my kids should've known and explain step-by-step why I did something (or why their behavior needed to change).


Getting a quiet child to be more verbal can be a tough nut to crack. Regular praise definitely helps, as Rosie pointed out. Do you find your ds is always short on dialog, or are there less stressful situations where you can get him to open up more than usual?


You've gone a long way by just expressing the problem :001_smile:. It helps bring clarity to a seemingly intractable problem, and it can feel so good just to get it off your chest.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Go look at Richard and Linda Eyre's books in the library or borrow them through inter-library loan. They are exactly what you're looking for. This couple has a large family, and they wrote down exactly how they taught a particular character virtue to their kids, with different ideas for different age kids.


Each book focuses on one particular trait. They're easy to read, and interesting.



Link to comment
Share on other sites

Are you putting him on the spot when you try and talk to him? I was in my late teens and would still freeze up if someone asked me a vaguely worded question. Specifics I could deal with, but open ended I couldn't. How did I know what sort of answer they wanted if they didn't tell me? It seemed rather time consuming to think up a great long thesis to answer every point they might have been imagining when they asked.

Mum always stuck my brother in the car when she wanted some deep and meaningful conversation. I'm not sure she could extract anything out of them anywhere else. That's probably why she kept him in soccer for so long, as an excuse to keep him in the car and talking! I wonder if it's a guy thing. My dh becomes ten times more conversational when we're in the car and there's nothing else to do but talk.




Link to comment
Share on other sites

I do not believe that empathy can be anything but taught.

The first step is having awareness yourself which you do....good for you!

I just don't believe that with your desire and awareness as such that he wont eventually get it, you know?

It will be okay, keep on modeling it.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.


  • Create New...